Friday, November 21, 2008

A Reasonable Query...

I got an email recently, responded to it, and thought I might share it with you. (Yes, I verified that the sender had no issues with this - even though I'm not using his name.) Here's what he said...

Mr. Durham,

I enjoyed your book on Hannibal. It was much better than most of the other fiction I have read about that time period. I am tempted to pick up your book Acacia but have a question before I do so.

Lately, fantasy authors have not been fair to their readers. The late Robert Jordan, the once great George RR Martin, even Weis and Hickman with Dragonlance are not being fair to their readers. I mean in the sense of how long should a series go? Jordan's first 3 or 4 books were great, but again how many 1,000 page books should you have to read before a series comes to an end? Lately, Martin's Ice and Fire series is in the same direction... 4 books, with no end in sight.

So, my question, before I pick up your book... will you keep it at three? At some point, will you bring the story to a close in a way that respects the readers time?

Thanks, L

And my response...

Hey L,

Thanks for writing. Glad you liked Pride of Carthage, and I totally understand your complaints about never ending fantasy series. I won't comment on what other authors have done (or haven't done), but I will promise that I have every intention of respecting my readers' time and of providing closure by the end of the third book. I should explain a few things, though...

First, I think you'll find (if you do pick it up) that Acacia has a fair amount of closure. All the major plot points and the main struggles of the book come to point of completion by the end. I worked hard to make that happen, especially because when I began the book I couldn't know that I'd get a second chance at fantasy. I was new to the genre and couldn't know how I'd be received. Also, coming from the literary side of things the notion of writing sequels wasn't anything I was particularly used to. I had to take care of business in one book. I'm glad to say that a lot of readers write me to say they're looking forward to the next Acacia book. I'm thrilled by that. There's plenty left to explore, but there are no cliffhangers at the end.

That said, the second book, The Other Lands, is not as self-contained. It concludes with a whole host of new threats and problems arising, all of which I'll hope to pick up and conclude in the third book. The Other Lands is still a six hundred page manuscript, so there's plenty of adventure in those pages; it's just that the overarching conflict is bigger than one book.

Now, I do know exactly where that third book ends, and, as with Acacia, it will lead to another possible stopping point. I don't have specific plans for future Acacia books after that. I may continue to write more in this world, but if I do it'll be because there are other stories to tell. It won't be that I'm dragging out the main story without resolution. Promise.

I don't know if that will convince you, but I hope so.

With respect for your time,

David.

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15 Comments:

Anonymous Sengei Tawn said...

David,
Interesting question and answers.

Personally, I don't like short stories. I love long ones that I can sink my teeth into, get to know the character, tease apart the clues and the watch a plot unfold like a flower. I'd rather watch it in slow motion.

To wit, I really disliked The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons for that reason. Ick.

On the other hand, C.J. Cherryh's Foreigner series is a little too long-winded. The main character chatters on and on in his head and I'm thinking...let's get on with it. Though I love her characters and the plot. No problem there.

Maybe I'm old-fashioned. I slogged through the Lord of the Rings when I was 15, but I don't have any attention problems like so many people do today. I am also not a product of this 'quick bite' entertainment world (including news which is really entertainment).

I think as long as an author keeps me entranced, I'll keep reading. But not if they drag things out.

1:17 PM  
Anonymous Dave said...

I agree with Sengei, you handled that well, but I wouldn't mind getting a new WoT, GRRM, SE or DAD every year-and-a-half. :-) Some worlds are just too damn interesting, some characters too bloody cool to say goodbye to. Well, that's me, at least (I'm planning my Urban Fantasy to go on for a while). :-)

I can see where Sengei is coming from, though; there's such a proliferation of good work coming out that pretty soon, we'll all be reading three or four 6-8 book epics at once - that might cause a bit of a train wreck. :-)

4:27 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Dave,

You said you'd like a new book every year and a half. How about this question?

Would you rather have a 600-page book that doesn't bring much closure but that lets you return to the world for a while every year and a half?

Or do you think it's better to wait for three years to get a 1000-page book that tries to be a more self-contained story?

That question is actually for anybody reading this.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Sengei Tawn said...

David,
Whoa. A 1,000-page tome (even in paperback) might put me off because of the cost. So unless I was already addicted to the story/author, I might not do it. Or wait for it to arrive at the library.

Cryptonomicron is 918 pages! I have yet to read it (on my list).

I look for quality not quantity. I read for pleasure but also to learn to write better. I chose Acacia because of the good reviews. I am halfway through and realize I will hunger for the next in the series, definitely!

I have struggled to get through Jonathan Strange (hardcover) at 782 pages. But it's mostly because the main character (a supposedly adept magician) remains unaware of the faeries (they captured his wife in faeryland...hello?). I stopped at 500 pages. The author has excellent writing skills (good if you want to learn to write) but the story draaaaggggs. I gave up.

I think I prefer around 350-400 pages because it gives me time to chew over the story before diving into the next one. But if the story is good, then I'm all for a longer tome.

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Stormy70 said...

Long or short does not matter to me, as it is the quality of the story which keeps me reading. I have been interested in Acacia, and based on your answer, I am going to get your book. I like books with some closure, but leave you wanting to read the next book.

When a book is good, 1000 pages fly by in an instant.

9:54 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Stormy70,

Awesome. I feel the same way about books. If the writing is good I'm there, regardless page count or having to wait a bit for the next installment. Actually, waiting is fine...

But that's me as a reader. As a writer I want to take care of business as quickly as possible. So glad you'll be giving Acacia a shot. Let me know what you think!

11:39 PM  
Blogger paranoyd said...

Yeah, I'm with Stormy on this one, David. 500 pages, 1000 pages, whatever - just make it good and I'm there. Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series was fantastic and I read it very quickly. Tad Williams Otherlands series was "pretty good" and it took me much longer - and they were roughly the same length.

Good trumps length any day.

4:02 AM  
Blogger Tia Nevitt said...

I guess I'm the odd one out here. I'm glad David's only going to make it 3 novels. Why? Because I'm interested in seeing what else he can come up with. Series that go on past 5 or so books tend to lose me, especially if I suspect the author is just trying to drag it out.

I'm also glad he plans to write other stories in the Acacia world. I know, this is a bit contradictory, but multiple stories set in the same world are just fine with me. I just like to see plotlines end in a reasonable number of pages.

12:03 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Tia,

Yeah. I'm definitely settled on the three book structure. I'd like to think the payoff from that will be considerable - for readers and for myself.

And then... there's always more stories to find.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, I'm alarmed by the conversation I just read in your blog about curtailing potential new books in this series! I've read sci-fi/fantasy novels voluminously and recognize a special literary touch in the genre when I see it. And I'm only half-way through with Acacia!, my introduction to your writing. PLEASE, David, just allow your creativity and timing to flow...it's obvious that it's a "life" that will resolve itself beautifully and naturally...in its own time. Please keep writing and I'll keep reading! You've got a fan already.

David
Whidbey Island, WA

5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David,

I can’t bring myself to read anything that I don’t think there will be a sequel to. I love to get lost in a series. If someone takes the time to create a world for their characters, it’s a shame to let all the background and history go to waste. The more books in the series (of good quality and substance) the better. My preferred length is 300-500 pages. Much more than that tends to drag big-time in the middle. I read Acacia when it first came out, and I can’t wait for the next. I know I’ll be sad when you stop at 3…
Samantha
North Dakota

7:50 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Thank you David and Samantha,

I assure you I've no intention to curtail or shorten the story. I love it that you're interested and, you're right, it's a whole world - there have to be plenty of stories to tell within it.

Honestly, I want to be able to have both the readers that are wary of a long series AND those that want to keep on reading. I'd like to be able to offer the trilogy as a contained entity, so that if you want to stop at the end of it you can. And I also want to be able to offer more for those that want more. That's the goal.

8:07 PM  
Blogger iamza said...

Thank you for offering your readers some closure at the end of Acacia. Like L, I find I am getting a little tired of series that drag on and on and on.

Would you rather have a 600-page book that doesn't bring much closure but that lets you return to the world for a while every year and a half?

Or do you think it's better to wait for three years to get a 1000-page book that tries to be a more self-contained story?


I think I'd rather wait the three years and read the self-contained 1000-page novel.

I have an aversion to cliffhanger endings, mostly because I've been burned once too often with series (often fantasy) where I couldn't find one or more of the books necessary to fill in the story blanks.

I find incomplete or unfinished stories a maddening reading experience, and now tend to buy serialized novels only when I can buy the whole series at once. So, if the '600-pages every 1.5 years' story was a trilogy, I'd buy the 1800 pages after 4.5 years.

8:12 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Iamza,

Got it.

10:38 AM  
Blogger Piaw Na said...

I'm with the ones who complain about series that drag on. The reality was, A Feast for Crows was an entire book where nothing happened. I was so annoyed by the end of the book that I'm not reading any more Martin. I gave up on Robert Jordan for similar reasons.

As long as the plot moves, things happen, and characters grow and develop, I won't feel as though I'm being ripped off to help an author pay off a mortgage. Yes, I am aware that authors do need to pay mortgages, but you can do so by doing an honest living, or you can do so by padding short stories into "trilogies". I prefer to support authors that do the latter.

And count me in with the folks who'd rather read a 1000 page novel that's complete in itself. In fact, for a heavy library user like me, you're more likely to get me to shell out the money that way, since (1) I'm likely to buy the Kindle version so it won't be too heavy to carry around, and (2) I'm likely to buy the Kindle version because the library won't let me check out a book for 20 weeks or however long it takes me to finish it.

5:15 PM  

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